The "kill rock" in "Mystery Man," with Don Costello as Bud Trilling
This is the rock, as it appears in the movie, with Bud Trilling, the lead bad guy, standing next to it. It's a big, high rock with nothing much around it, and should have been easy to find. It wasn't.
Heed the words of Hoppy — aka William Boyd
Most readers won't be concerned about "Mystery Man" spoilers, but in case you're planning to watch the movie and don't want to know how it ends, this blog post goes into detail about the end of the movie.
"Mystery Man" (1944): The final chase begins in the Alabama Hills
The popular Hopalong Cassidy movies of the '30s and '40s did the bulk of their location filming up at Lone Pine, Calif., where they showcased the geological phenomenon that is the Alabama Hills.
"Mystery Man": Phantom Shack, in Iverson's Garden of the Gods
The Hoppy movies sometimes augmented their Alabama Hills location shoots with footage filmed on the Iverson Movie Ranch. A number of Iverson scenes are sprinkled throughout "Mystery Man."
The "Circle J Ranch" in "Mystery Man" (Lower Iverson)
The "Circle J Ranch" featured in the movie was in reality just a gate and fence set up on the Lower Iverson. Most of the rocks seen in the background here remain in place today among the Cal West Townhomes.
Lone Pine's Alabama Hills: The final shootout begins in "Mystery Man"
Back in June I heard from my pal Don Kelsen, who's an accomplished "rock detective" and who will be conducting a "Mystery Man" tour at Lone Pine in connection with this year's film festival.
Don recruited me to help track down some of the Iverson Movie Ranch locations found in "Mystery Man" — especially those woven into the final chase sequence.
I was happy to get involved, not realizing at the time that this endeavor would become the focus of no less than eight expeditions into Garden of the Gods, spanning three months.
Hoppy stands in front of a craggy rock ("Position 2")
The Iverson segment of the final chase gets up to speed after Hoppy breaks off from the main shootout to go after Trilling, the vicious leader of a gang of badmen.
Most of the Iverson sites were easy to find, even though the production team went a little deeper into the interior of Garden of the Gods than movie crews typically ventured.
As Hoppy keeps up his relentless pursuit of Trilling, he works his way through the Garden of the Gods.
The same site — "position 3" — as it appears today
While the rocks featured in the chase sequence are a little bit out of the way, they're in close proximity to the Garden of the Gods' most familiar and heavily filmed features.
Don Costello as Bud Trilling — lingering in the Alabama Hills
The sequence stitches together footage from two different locations. Hoppy surfaces at Iverson well before Trilling does, but thanks to creative editing, Trilling is able to fire at him from Lone Pine, about 200 miles away.
Trilling arrives in the Garden of the Gods
When Trilling finally turns up on the Iverson Ranch, he first positions himself behind a rock with a distinctive indentation near the top of it.
Hoppy arrives at the "basin rock"
After Trilling flees the scene, Hoppy finds his way to the same rock, hot on Trilling's heels. The rock is located well in the interior of Garden of the Gods, but is fairly easy to get to. You'll find a map near the bottom of this post.
The "basin rock's" location is not generally on the radar of movie historians, but it's right around the corner from the well-known filming area Overlook Point, where the remnants of an old camera mount can still be found.
Both Trilling and Hoppy work their way to higher ground, eventually meeting up at the "kill rock" — so named because this is where Trilling will meet his fate.
Closeup of Trilling next to the kill rock
The desperate outlaw makes a final stand.
The "Mystery Man" kill rock in all its glory
My first impression when I saw the image of the kill rock was that it was probably one of the tall towers in the depths of Garden of the Gods. Starting in early June, I began a series of expeditions in search of the rock.
The rock towers of the southeastern Garden of the Gods (photographed in 2013)
I zeroed in on a particular rock, noted above, as my leading contender for the kill rock. But when I saw the rock in person, it didn't seem to match.
Garden of the Gods rock towers in 2011
Another photo of my would-be kill rock, taken from a different angle, reveals that it does have a flat rock on top, similar to the "Mystery Man" rock. But again, the angles don't appear to match.
The same rock, in June 2016
I snapped this photo of my "early contender" on my first expedition to search for the kill rock. Once again, it didn't quite match up. I would have liked to get a look at it from the other side, but that view is blocked by a tree.
Family photo from the Joe Iverson collection: the kill rock!
Around that time, by pure coincidence, the above photo turned up. This family photo from the Joe Iverson collection once again captures the kill rock, essentially proving that it was an Iverson feature.
"Annie Oakley" TV show: Interior Garden of the Gods, as seen in the episode "The Tomboy"
A second development around the same time got me even more charged up about the kill rock. While doing research for my recent post about the TV show "Annie Oakley," I ran across the above sequence.
"Annie Oakley": The shot that broke open the case
As the camera pans to the left in the "Annie Oakley" sequence, it catches a glimpse of a rock tower, at top left. When I first spotted this rock, I think I let out an audible gasp. Could this be the kill rock?
The kill rock: Hiding in plain sight
When I revisited the site, I found the kill rock right where I expected it to be — and right where my initial hunch almost three months earlier told me it should be. My "early contender" turned out to be the kill rock after all.
"Annie Oakley": "The Tomboy"
As the "Annie Oakley" sequence shows, the tree was not there back in 1954, when the episode was filmed.
The kill rock in 2016
In this shot, which closely matches the "Annie Oakley" angle, the tree does not look like the formidable obstacle it turned out to be. But it effectively blocks any effort to see the rock as it appeared in "Mystery Man."
"Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ" (1925): An early appearance by the kill rock
The kill rock was hardly a newcomer to the movies when it appeared in "Mystery Man" in 1944. As one of the prominent rock towers in the Garden of the Gods, the kill rock's resume goes all the way back to the silent era.
Garden of the Gods — Google aerial view
For readers who want to see the Iverson Movie Ranch "Mystery Man" locations in person, this aerial may help you find the craggy rock, the basin rock and the kill rock. Start by finding your way to Redmesa Road in Chatsworth.
"Cattle Pocket" in the Alabama Hills — one of the stops on the "Mystery Man" tour
This shot, which also appears near the top of this post, is set in an area called "Cattle Pocket," where some of the most dramatic formations of the Alabama Hills can be found. It's one of the stops on Don Kelsen's "Mystery Man" tour scheduled for Saturday morning, Oct. 8, 2016, in Lone Pine.
Lone Pine Film Festival website.
Here's a clip of the final chase in "Mystery Man." The first half is filmed in Lone Pine, with the first Iverson shot at 2:03. Then it flips back and forth between Iverson and Lone Pine, and from 3:51 to the end it's all Iverson.